Stephen Rose, senior community manager at Microsoft, has a big job. He's responsible for managing a worldwide community of more than 22 million IT professionals who use Microsoft products. An even bigger job: He's also responsible for creating community around Windows 7.
Rose primarily works with the Springboard group, an offshoot of Microsoft Technet, a central location that holds Microsoft info for IT pros on client operating systems. The Springboard site, according to Rose, is one of the most used sites on Technet. To help create community and awareness for Windows 7, Rose and his team in part created the Springboard Series Technical Expert Panel (STEP), a "by the community, for the community" program to spur advocacy within IT professionals and community influencers withinthe Microsoft, MVP, and MCT communities. Microsoft wanted to inspire influencers to host or speak at user groups, conferences, etc., or to write about their user experiences with Windows 7.
The challenge? To do both of these Rose and the Microsoft team needed a way to best determine who those influencers are outside of big-name bloggers and journalists. They wanted to talk to the folks in the trenches who are experienced with and fans of Windows 7 to help convert those folks on the fence.
Rose created the panel using a mix of social media tools, such as Twitter and Facebook. That was great for outreach, but what about finding unknown influencers? Rose started using a tool called TruCast from Visible Technologies, a social media monitoring, measurment and engagement solution. TruCast helps companies listen to and learn what targeted influencers are saying in blogs, social networks, bulletin boards, online user groups, and so on, and actually works as a response platform once those targets are acquired. The TruCast dashboard allows for users to know the degree of satisfaction level of their users.
According to Rose Microsoft uses this tool across several different groups. For example, the consumer group uses it to determine customer satisfaction and to engage online with customers. The Springboard group, however, is interested in reaching out to the IT professional who might be on the fence about Microsoft.
"There are Linux fanboys and Apple fanboys who no matter what we say, they want want to be mad and there is nothing we can do to change them," Rose said. "So we focus on the folks who are on the fence as those are key. They are trying to figure out if they should go with Windows Vista or Windows 7. They might be buyers at companies with thousands of seats or they might be bloggers who have a decent reach into their user-based communities. Using TruCast we can determine who these people are and offer them support, resources and contact information."
According to Rose, the results using TruCast are pretty intricate.
"It's a powerful engagement tool. We not only find the posts we're interested through a keyword but we can see people talking about Windows Vista vs. Windows 7. We can use the same tool to directly respond to and track the conversation in the post. We've found it's been a valuable tool for communicating with the more powerful influencers and finding the smaller influencers we wouldn't otherwise see."
According to Rose the team is now working with 250 subject matter experts in 29 countries. He said that TruCast really helped them narrowing down the influencers based on reputation in the community and reach.
"It would be impossible for us to go out and scrape that kind of information without spending hours and hours of time. This is something we can do in a matter of minutes," he said. "What's great is it can help us point to where we are missing the mark, where we aren't engaging, and where are users are that need support from Microsoft. How was I to know we had a 1,200-person user community in the middle of Arkansas? Now we can put a subject matter expert in front of them and get a high amount of impact."